Fiber Artist Linda Schmidt thrives on taking an unexpected substance and transforming it into a perfect visual adaptation on one of her art quilts. Known for creating award-winning quilts and sharing her techniques through teaching, Linda is constantly on the lookout for new ways to express herself with fiber.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I’d have to say I evolved into it. My parents couldn’t stand to see an idle child, and they had seven children. If they saw you just laying around, you’d be doing the laundry or vacuuming the stairs or weeding the garden. I quickly learned to either hide up in the apple tree or be busy doing SOMETHING if they saw me.
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The summer I was eight, I made a Log Cabin pillow and began a pinwheel quilt with my sisters. Then I put the pieces in the attic until I was twenty. In the meantime, I became a Brownie and a Girl Scout. I became obsessed with getting badges for everything – ceramics, cooking, crochet, knitting, dressmaking, macrame, embroidery, whatever stood still long enough to be made into something else. Plus, I took piano lessons, sang in the choir, debated and competed in speech contests. I started college while still in high school and got married after 1-1/2 years of college. Eventually I graduated from Baldwin-Wallace College after completing their Humanities Year.
That fall and winter I continued to study French and classic literature from The Iliad to Camus. And I went to plays, concerts, classic films and art museums. Then we spent 10-½ weeks in England, France, Germany and Italy traveling, going to museums and plays and operas and natural wonders. We saw and experienced art, making our reports while standing on the actual sites or in front of the art. We saw Swan Lake at the Drury Lane Theatre, Jean Pierre Rimpal in Paris, Der Valkyrie in Avignon, the Coliseum, the Louvre, walked across the Lake District, went to Pisa and Rome, and so on with culture and art and wonders every day.
My first original quilt was one of Neuschwanstein Castle which we visited on this trip. Yes, I know…it’s pretty pathetic, and probably worthy of a space in the Museum of Bad Art. But it did make a great picnic blanket! I don’t have it anymore, because we lost it on a picnic expedition. But that was probably a good thing, because if you lose something, you try to make something better.
This whole experience has evolved into what I am – a person who appreciates art in all of its forms and tries to make Art of her own. I continue to travel, explore, try new techniques and take workshops. I try to make my work beautiful and meaningful, to make small things with great love.
What inspires you to create?
It could be anything. I’ve made many quilts from photos, but also from passages from the Bible, a rubber stamp, the theme for a quilt show, my hand, a piece of fabric, a piece of music, the memory of a loved one. There’s inspiration all around us, you just have to BEGIN.
Why quilting? How does that medium best express what you want to say through your art?
My mother was a quilter, my grandmother was a quilter, my great-grandmother was a quilter. They lived in South Dakota, where they “made quilts as fast as they could so their children wouldn’t freeze, and as pretty as they could so their hearts wouldn’t break,” as quiltmaker Mary Lee Bendolph of Gee’s Bend, Alabama put it.
We lived in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where people tend to be pretty frugal. Making scraps into blankets was all just part of it. My mother taught me to sew and make quilts and clothes, to crochet and knit. I have made most of my own clothes since I was twelve.
When my first son was born, I made him a quilt based on the children’s books we read every night. From then on, it was just quilting for me. Oh, except for the tablecloth I embroidered for my mom, the macrame tree, learning to play the guitar, planting gardens everywhere we went, refinishing and upholstering furniture from flea markets…. oh, well, you get the picture.
Quilting, though, is a wide-open window of opportunity – you can do whatever you want. You can embroider, paint, stamp, dye, use weird embellishments, and keep adding whatever makes you happy until you have brought your visual construct into reality, which is what I normally do. I get a picture in my head of a work of art and cannot stop until it has become reality.
What was the first quilt or garment you entered in a show? What was that experience like?
It was my Birds in Flight quilt. I made a Grandmother’s Fan quilt for our bed when we moved from Pennsylvania to California. The wall in the bedroom was brown, the carpet was beige, and I had no neutral colors in my stash. My Mom said it was okay to go the store and BUY some fabric. So, I did, but there were 4 blocks leftover from the quilt. Because nobody knows how many blocks you should make for a queen-sized-waterbed-to-the-floor quilt when it’s on point. You just make blocks until you have enough and sew them together. Well, Minnesotans don’t waste anything, so I made the four extra blocks into this piece to hang above the bed. Then I hand quilted it IN COLORED THREAD with hummingbirds and daylilies and entered it into the Alameda County Fair.
Well, do you know what happens when you get a blue ribbon in the Alameda County Fair? They sent me MONEY in the MAIL. I got $8 for the first-place prize, and I figured I could make a living from this. This experience basically changed my life. It woke me up to entering challenges and quilt shows, exposed me to the local quilting guild (which I have belonged to since 1983) and started me on the long road to where I am today.
How has your creativity evolved over the years? What triggered the evolution to new media/kinds of work/ways of working?
I’ve always liked doing and learning a lot of different things at once. With quilting and garment making, I can put many of the things I’ve learned into making unique pieces of art. I think the major influences were taking workshops and participating in the Art Quilt Project at the Houston Quilt Show.
My guild, the Amador Valley Quilters, is a big guild that brings in great teachers. Nearby is the Empty Spools Seminars in Pacific Grove, California. I had a firm grounding in traditional quilt making, but when we moved to California, I discovered a new world. There were classes from Katie Pasquini, Ruth McDowell, Charlotte Warr-Andersen, Libby Lehman, Jonathan Shannon, Caryl Byer-Fallert and a whole host of others.
Once a year, I went to Asilomar to take a 5-day class from one teacher. Teachers came to our Guild, too. After my first trip to Asilomar, I was invited to become a Fairfield Designer. That involved getting a bunch of free stuff to make a garment, then going to Houston to see it walk down the runway, where I took even MORE classes. Everything built on itself, and eventually the Art Quilt Project began.
For this project, I made one 8-1/2” x 11” piece each month for 9 months. Then I put them all on a sleeve and sent them to Houston along with 450 other people. They made their own miniature art show within the show. I did this for 4 years. The last two years, participants made 17” x 22” pieces and showed those instead. This means you have to come up with a lot of new ideas in a fairly short time.
Luckily, I had made a Scottish pen pal. She sent me supplies to play with that she had come across in her Cities and Guilds project in England. I had to figure out what to do with Expandaprint and sequin waste and other stuff. I also took a three-day workshop with a Master Embroiderer from England and learned more about things like Solvy and melted painted cellophane. All of this was just too much fun, and it all added up to ways to make Elements – Earth, Wind, Fire and Water – in fabric and fibers and thread and STUFF.
Are there recurring themes in your work? What is it about a subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
Moving water – waterfalls, streams, rivers, oceans, waves, seafoam. Elements – Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. Birds in flight. People – family, friends, loved ones. Music and poetry and dance that moves me to try to interpret it in fabric.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I don’t really know. Every piece is different from every other piece, but people say they can recognize my work on sight. Some pieces are religious, some pure whimsy. Some are photos brought to life, some are mere imaginings. It’s a puzzlement.
I do, however, insist that wherever possible, edges are turned under, everything lies flat and square and straight, and the workmanship is as good as I can possibly make it. I also use many techniques and textures, blending them into art that best depicts my fantasy or reality.
Can you share a bit of your process of bringing a new idea from glimmer to reality?
Generally speaking, I take a photo and trace it, or make a drawing and trace it onto Mylar tracing paper, one side frosted. This allows me to take a photo and adapt it or erase parts and rearrange them. Or I can combine two or three drawings into one concept.
I draw the whole thing in do-able appliqué or piecing shapes, then number them from left to right, top to bottom and tape the drawing to paper. Then I take it to the copy shop and make it as big as I want it. I trace the whole thing onto the shiny side of Totally Stable with a Sharpie. This becomes the base for the appliqué and goes up on the design wall. I then paste the enlarged copy face down onto the paper side of freezer paper. I put this up on the design wall, shiny side of the freezer paper facing me. This becomes my template pieces.
I cut out one piece of the freezer paper template at a time and iron it to the wrong side of the fabric for that piece. I squirt it with spray starch and pull the top and one side edge over the edge of the freezer paper, then pull the freezer paper out and pin it to the Totally Stable design on the wall. When I run out of pins, I iron it all down to the Totally Stable which holds the pieces in place. Then I zig zag each turned-under edge to the Totally Stable with invisible thread and a very tiny zigzag. I do this to the whole thing until the design is complete, then rip off the Totally Stable and add any embellishments. Then I quilt.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
Usually, it’s a mess. My husband converted my daughter’s bedroom into a studio space while she was at college. It has an 8-foot x 12-foot design wall covered in Contact paper, an Ikea wooden storage closet for art supplies, a six-foot artist’s drafting table under the windows with batting and stuff stored under it, a collapsible table that holds a radio and turntable and more artist supplies, two rows of shelving that hold thread and silk painting stuff, fibers and ribbons and shells and crystals and buttons and sheer fabrics, then my tackle box of miscellaneous threads and tools, and three thread tubs and several shadow boxes and spools of threads.
The hidden closet has all my wearable art and 7 boxes of scraps. There’s also a small chest of drawers under the table that holds fabric paint, and cardboard wine holders hold things like freezer paper and parchment paper and cellophane.
I also have another room which was my original workspace that has two large garage white wood cabinets with shelves and drawers for fabric. The fabric is organized by color, on edge, in the drawers, and several large tubs hold things like tulle and silky fabrics and dyed fabrics, yarns and such, and the paints in squirt bottles for painting fabric.
I also use my brick patio to paint fabrics and things for workshops.
What is your favorite storage tip for your fabric and creative supplies?
Label everything, even if it’s in a plastic box. Keep like stuff together – all the paints here, all the pencils and drawing stuff there, all the beads over there, and keep everything in plain sight. I have eight deep drawers and several boxes where the fabric is stored on edge so you can see each one immediately. I have two magnetic strips on the edges of the shelves where all the scissors go, so I can see each one.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
- Great rotary cutter made by Alex Andersen – it’s heavy, but you tap and it’s ready, tap and it’s closed. Easy to change blades.
- Drafting table – You can customize it for your height and preferred angle, and if you stack stuff on it, stuff falls off so you can keep your cutting space clear.
- Scissors – 2 sets of all three sizes that minimize fraying by Karen Kay Buckley, plus about 20 other sets of scissors.
- Seta colors by Pebeo – great for any kind of painting, including sun prints and portraits, plus a few Jacquards and some Golden Liquid Acrylics.
- Janome M-7 sewing machine – SO COOOL!!!!!
- Gold metal Stilettos – for turning edges under
- Steam a Seam II Lite and Misty Fuse
- Glide thread – I use it for everything. Very fine, doesn’t kink up, doesn’t break, doesn’t leave lint in the machine. Bought most of it for $8 on 5,000-yard spools.
- Specialty thread – metallic thread in all colors and types, especially Madeira black core jewel thread, Superior Glitter thread, Yenmet metallic, Glamour heavy bobbin thread.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
No. I keep one on hand for pertinent quotations, but that’s it. I tried keeping a journal, but it was a total waste of time for me.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I started out with country music because if I played country music, the kids (I had three of them) would leave me alone. It was just too dorky for them. I now listen to Spotify set to people like Ed Sheeran, James Taylor, John Denver, Carol King and Simon and Garfunkel.
When you travel, do you create while on planes and in waiting areas? What is in your creative travel kit?
No. My stuff is too complicated to bring on a plane. I read whenever I’m still.
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?
Da Vinci. He’s all over the place and interested in everything.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think people are creative in different ways that are natural to them. I’ve always felt drawn to the French language, the flute, the piano, the guitar, sewing, crafts, and folk dances. When I learned those things, it was like remembering, not learning. I think there may be something in the whole idea of reincarnation…. the soul remembers and carries on and does much better with the familiar things.
Tell us about your website. We must ask. Why Short Attention Span Quilting?
Early on I discovered that making a lot of the same kind of blocks is not only boring, but difficult. I am constitutionally incapable of doing that anymore.
So, I much prefer the challenge of a scene where there are trees and rocks and falling water, people, buildings and cliffs. I get to use silk ribbons and flowers, a bit of appliqué here, some piecing there, paint the sky, fuse some clouds and create the chaos of a waterfall there. Experiments with Puff Paint and melted painted cellophane, Lutradur and Tyvek, and whatever else I can get my little hands on make my pieces more interesting and fun.
I live my life the way I make my quilts, with a little bit of painting, some gardening, some beading, some threadplay, some singing, some flute playing, some family time, some furniture refinishing, some Zumba, some piecing, some… whatever is next. It’s a challenge to make it all come together into a cohesive whole.
There’s an old Russian saying about the dancing bear: “It’s not how well the bear dances, it’s that it dances at all.” I’m still making quilts, quilts that tell stories and are appliqued and embroidered, pieced and painted, beaded and tucked, all while keeping that quilt straight and square, well-balanced and finished as beautifully as I can. I’m trying to get my bear to dance the Schottische.
What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
I’m not sure that people put websites up to get people to gain anything. I put mine up because it was a requirement of a website I taught classes for to get people interested enough in the work to sign up for classes. (I have seven classes on www.AcademyofQuilting.com.) It’s also very handy for people who want to hire me to be able to look at my calendar to know when I would be available to do a class for them, and to be able to see the samples of the classes I am willing to teach as well as the talks I do.
I do have several helpful, and I think interesting, articles on my website that might help some people past some rough spots. There’s one about how our guild has a President’s Pie Party to greet our new president and explain how our guild works behind the scenes to get things done. There’s another article about how to deal with difficult threads. There are also articles I wrote about how to deal with disappointment when you don’t win a quilting prize, and how to celebrate when you do. There are some about the pitfalls of entering contests, and scrap quilts and a bunch of other articles I wrote just for fun, but I doubt many people actually read them.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I don’t actually lecture; I just do talks, mostly trunk shows. I do have two PowerPoint presentations I do on Zoom, but I’d rather talk in person. No workshops online, except through www.AcademyofQuilting.com. There, I have 7 workshops that people can do on demand.
You can see my calendar on my website, www.ShortAttentionSpanQuilting.com/Welcome. You can contact me at [email protected]. I’m much more likely to respond to an e-mail than a phone call, because the robots are everywhere. I’m based in Dublin, California, but am 20 minutes from the Oakland airport, and usually fly Southwest wherever I go, because they are so forgiving about suitcases full of STUFF!
**James H. Schmitz, The Witches of Karres
Interview posted December 2022
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